Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to one day in Sarajevo! Bosnia and Herzegovina is certainly a little off the beaten track for most tourists. It doesn’t have the coastline of Croatia or the forests and castles of Romania, to name just a couple of countries in the Balkans that see more tourists.
But Bosnia’s capital city, Sarajevo, is hugely important to world history, and it has a special beauty because of its unique blend of cultures that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Join me for one day in Sarajevo and I hope by the time we’re done, you’ll be ready to pack your bags for Bosnia!
One Day in Sarajevo
Where to Stay?
The best area for enjoying your one day in Sarajevo is somewhere close to the famous open air market. It’s so much fun to walk around here at night, and you won’t want to miss it. That’s why I recommend the Garni Hotel Konak. The rooms are smallish but clean and comfortable. But the location can’t be beat, the staff is amazing (and so is the price), and there’s a free breakfast spread every morning!
One Day in Sarajevo
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today on our one day in Sarajevo. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Bosnia is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
One Day in Sarajevo
Morning: Sarajevo Architecture Tour
I’m a big believer in supporting local guides by taking walking tours/food tours/street art tours/etc, but this isn’t any sort of official walking tour. No, I shall be your guide to the beautiful architecture of Sarajevo! Because Sarajevo has been part of both the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it’s the perfect place to see how both styles of architecture are similar and different.
Plus you get to feel like an international spy roaming through people’s houses without their knowledge! Maybe their ghosts are all watching you and judging you. That’s what I would do if I were a ghost. So let’s get to meeting our ghostly hosts with the most with…
Approximately Top 5: Sarajevo Architecture
1) Svrzo’s House
If you’re on a budget, Bosnia is a great choice. A one day in Sarajevo itinerary will set you back very little. And one reason for that is that you can get one ticket to see five historical attractions in the city. This is an excellent way to explore the entire history of Sarajevo and save money. So let’s start at the first attraction: the Svrzo House. This home belonged to a wealthy Muslim family during the Ottoman Empire. (Bosnia is still about 50 percent Muslim.)
I had also seen traditional Ottoman homes in Serbia, and it’s thrilling to be able to see this kind of beautiful home which is harder to find in Europe these days. Who wouldn’t want to eat an elegant tea on these gorgeous couches? I think it’s high time for this kind of decor to make a comeback.
You can tell this was a SERIOUSLY wealthy family because they had so many rooms. Not only was there one sitting room for men and another for women, but they had a balcony that was dedicated only to watching moonlight. I only have one balcony for watching moonlight AND sunlight, and it isn’t even really a balcony but rather a rickety fire escape that would send me crashing to a horrible death if I stepped on it. So for mere pennies, it’s exciting to experience the luxury of standing on a Moonlight Balcony.
2) Museum of the Jews of Bosnia and Herzegovina
As a Jewish-American, I was very curious to visit this museum, as I know nothing of the history of Jewish people in Bosnia. It is located in the oldest synagogue in Bosnia, and the museum was founded on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Jews in Bosnia. The museum, while small, does an excellent job showing the good and the bad side of the way Jewish people were treated in Bosnia.
On one hand, there is some horrible anti-Semitic propaganda that was published in Bosnia during World War II at the behest of the Nazis. On the other hand, those non-Jewish Bosnians who helped Jewish people escape or hide during the war are honored here. There are stories of Bosnians who helped Jews escape here on the Yad Vashem website. My favorite exhibit was the replica of a typical shop run by a Jewish storekeeper in Sarajevo before World War II. There’s more to us Jewish people than just being oppressed, and it’s important to show that in Jewish museums.
3) Museum of Sarajevo 1878-1918
This small but interesting museum is dedicated to life in Sarajevo under the Austro-Hungarian empire. We’ve talked a lot about the Siege of Sarajevo on this blog, but that’s not the only horrific historical event associated with Sarajevo. Did you know that World War I also basically started in this city?
A Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne just a short distance away from where the museum is located. (He wanted Yugoslavian independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.) That means that literally all the problems in the 20th century, from World War II to conflict in the Middle East can be traced back to Gavrilo Princip. Curse you, Gavrilo Princip! Would that only you had ne’er been born!
BTW, I feel this answer at Mr. Princip because of the horrible events that followed his assassination of the Archduke, not because I am opposed to his cause. In fact, I would say I am pro-Slavic Independence From the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Gavrilo Princip is not in this museum, but the gun that apparently killed Franz Ferdinand is. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.
4) Falafel Restaurant
We have so much to see today, so we’re not going to want an extremely elaborate lunch. One of the most popular restaurants in Sarajevo’s historic area is the simply named Falafel Restaurant. They make it fresh right in front of you and it comes with a light salad, warm fries, and housemade hummus. (You can tell they make their own because of the chickpeas on top.) Sarajevo is a meat-loving city, so it’s nice to know that this option is available for vegetarians as well.
One Day in Sarajevo
Afternoon: Keep Exploring!
Now that our bellies are full, it’s time to make like this cat and continue exploring the wonders of Sarajevo. We still have two museums on our ticket that we have paid for but haven’t seen. So let us pussyfoot along as we learn…
Three (Not Always Fun) Facts: Sarajevo Edition
1) What about the Bosnian Serbs?
Ah…you noticed that I called Gavrilo Princip a Bosnian Serb and you want to know what it means. Well, this is a very complicated and controversial question. What I was told in all three countries is that Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats are all Slavs and their languages are very similar. (Some people say that they are basically the same language, but I am definitely not qualified to comment on this one.)
The peoples differ more in terms of religion, alphabet, and their sense of national identity. Serbs tend to be Orthodox while Bosniaks are more likely to be Muslim. But they all used to belong to Yugoslavia for decades before the violent end to that country. Anyway, there are still Serbs who live in Bosnia just like there are Bosniaks who live in Croatia, etc.
You can learn more about these differences at the Despic House, which used to belong to a wealthy Orthodox Serb family and is now a museum. Even though the family was Orthodox, there were rooms like the one above done in the style of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. (Bosnia was part of the Ottoman Empire before it was Austro-Hungarian.)
And then there are rooms like this which are in a European style. According to the signs at the Despic House, the main difference is that in the European rooms you can pick up the furniture and move it around. But I wouldn’t actually test this theory by picking up the furniture because they will kick you out of the Despic House.
2) What is this Ottoman Empire?
Well, you have come to the right place! We’re off to the Brusa Bezistan to learn about Bosnia when it was part of this empire. The Ottoman Empire was a ginormous empire that spread throughout Eastern Europe, modern-day Turkey, and the Middle East. Its capital was the city that is now called Istanbul, but that doesn’t mean the Ottoman Empire = Turkey.
This building, the Brusa Bezistan, dates back to the 16th century when it was constructed by Rustem Pasha, who was a Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire. I can’t be sure exactly what viziers do, and I know they sometimes get a bad rap because of Jafar from Aladdin. But I try not to listen to anti-vizier propaganda. (#notallviziers)
I was surprised to learn that Rustem Pasha used this building for selling his own silk. Who knew silk-vending was a thing that viziers sometimes did? Nowadays it is a small museum with artifacts from every period of Sarajevo’s history from before the First World War. But my favorite part was seeing the stylish threads from the Ottoman Empire. Look at those gorgeous fabrics! And they would look even better on people with actual faces.
3) Are there any museums to modern history in Sarajevo?
Yes, there are but be warned that the modern history of Sarajevo is quite painful, so prepare yourself emotionally before visiting. I highly recommend the Galerija 11/07/95 to learn more about some of the atrocities committed during the Bosnian War. (Photo taking is not permitted inside the gallery, but you can see pictures at the gallery’s website to get a sense of what it looks like.)
The date 11/07/95 (July 11th, 1995) commemorates the massacre at Srebrenica. This happened during the war between the Bosnian Serbs (the Army of Republika Srpska) and the Bosniaks. (Bosnian Croats were involved as well, but their involvement is so complicated that I don’t think I can cover it adequately during this blog post.) The UN sent peacekeeping forces in to help, but based on what I saw here, they weren’t very effective.
The most shocking exhibit at the Galerija is a video of General Ratko Mladic announcing that the Serbs intended to take revenge against the “Turks”, meaning the Ottoman Empire. This is insane because the Ottoman Empire was long dead by the 1990s and Bosniaks are by and large Muslim Slavs, not Turks. Meanwhile the peacekeeping forces just stood by and watched as he announced his murderous plans. Then the massacre of over 8000 Bosnians began and the exhibits at the Galerija are dedicated to their memory.
One Day in Sarajevo Itinerary
Early Evening: Self Guided Walking Tour
We’ve spent all day mostly inside exploring historic homes and museums, so as the sun starts to descend, let’s get some of that fresh air on a walking tour! This tour will take you to some of the most fascinating parts of the city, from the famous open air market from the Ottoman Empire to memorials to those who died during the Siege of Sarajevo.
We start the tour at the stunning library above, which was destroyed by the Army of Republika Srpska. About three million books were destroyed in this tragedy, but it has been rebuilt so all in Sarajevo can appreciate its beauty today.
Approximately Top 5: One Day in Sarajevo
1) Franz Ferdinand and Sophie
Arguably the most famous thing that ever happened in Sarajevo was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. We learned about this at the Sarajevo Museum and now we get to see the exact spot where the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip shot his victims. (Curse you, Gavrilo Princip!)
He assassinated Archduke Ferdinand and his wife almost by accident–they had been the victims of a failed bombing attempt earlier that day and had almost managed to escape, but then their carriage turned the corner and they ran into Mr. Princip who shot them. (Amazingly enough, he was not executed, but rather died in prison.) There were so many political alliances at this point that when Austria declared war on Serbia, basically every European country entered the fray, and that’s the beginning of World War I.
There used to be a real memorial to Franz Ferdinand and Sophie on the spot, but it has since been moved. So the plaque you see above is a “memorial to a memorial”, as my guide said.
2) Bosnian Coffee
You might think this looks like Turkish but remember that Bosnia was once part of the Ottoman Empire, so it makes sense that they kept the coffee. I heard the pot traditionally serves enough for three servings: one to welcome your guest, one to talk to your guest, and one to say goodbye. The last helping is the goodbye coffee because it is kind of sludgy so your guest probably won’t want to linger over it. I guess that’s more polite than yelling, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!”
3) The Sarajevo Snowflake
This is that rarest of creatures, a Sarajevo monument that celebrates a happy occasion. The Sarajevo snowflake was the symbol of the 1984 Winter Olympics, hosted in Sarajevo back when it was part of Yugoslavia. Apparently it was an extremely happy occasion because it showed a positive image of Yugoslavia to the world, and it made people feel hopeful about their country. (If only the happiness could have lasted.)
If you are a figure skating fan like I am, you know the Sarajevo Olympics are most famous for Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s legendary ice dancing performance set to Bolero. If you have never seen it, you’re in for a treat! Here you go! If you watch the video, you can see the original Sarajevo snowflakes in the stands.
4) The Open Air Market
Welcome to the most famous part of Sarajevo–the open air market! According to what I was told by locals, Sarajevo and Skopje have the only two Ottoman Empire era-markets like this left in Europe. There are so many hidden treasures here like the fountain that you need to drink from if you want to come back to Sarajevo.
Half the fun of this part of Sarajevo is getting to walk around and explore on your own, so I don’t want to spoil ALL the treasures. But don’t miss the two most prominent landmarks. First we have 16th century Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, which is the largest mosque in Bosnia.
And then there is the clock tower. Let’s play Where’s Waldo, if Waldo were a Bosnian clock tower and see if you can find it in my photo above!
5) A Veritable Bosnian Feast
This walking tour ends the way any good tour should: with dinner! I feasted on treats from around the open air market at Fan, so they could not have been fresher. First you will have cevapi, which are sausages so fresh you can practically hear them mooing. Again, these kinds of sausages are available in lots of countries in the Balkans like Serbia and Romania. Try them all and compare!
Then we had different burek, which are filled pies that are popular in almost everywhere that used to be part of the Ottoman Empire. A local told me that Bosnians are supposed to say burek can only be filled with meat, but there are plenty of vegetarian burek like cheese or spinach. I got to try a special seasonal one made with zucchini, which I liked because the filling was so much lighter than a meat or cheese pie. It was almost refreshing. So now you can check “Zucchini Burek in Sarajevo” off your bucket list.
And for dessert I had not one but two, two kinds of baklava! One was the traditional type with nuts and honey in a rolled up shape and the other was a rich chocolate. Personally I always believe chocolate makes everything better, don’t you, Internet Stranger?
After the tour, enjoy the beauty of the open air market at night! There’s tons of people, so I felt very safe, and it’s just a short walk back to our hotel at night. The only danger is probably if the ghost of Gavrilo Princip tries to haunt us. Curse you, Gavrilo Princip!
That’s a One Day in Sarajevo Itinerary!
What would you do with one day in Sarajevo? Would you rather eat zucchini burek or chocolate baklava? CURSE YOU GAVRILO PRINCIP???? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend one day in Sarajevo.